What is a Bulging Disc?
A bulging disc injury is a common injury occurring in the spine. It can occur in your lumbar spine (lower back), thoracic spine (upper and mid-back) or your cervical spine (neck).
A bulging disc can commonly be referred to as a slipped disc or a protruding disc. However, when the disc bulge is significant enough for the disc nucleus to come out of the annulus, it is known as a herniated disc. Inflammation is associated with adverse symptoms related to the stimulation of nerve fibers that may lead to pain. In the case of acute inflammation, blood vessels dilate, blood flow increases and white blood cells swarm the injured area to promote healing.
A disc bulge (commonly referred to as slipped disc), can potentially press against or irritate the nerve where it exits from the spine. This nerve pinch can cause back pain, spasms, cramping, numbness, pins and needles, or pain in your arms or legs.
What Causes a Bulging Disc?
Three common causes are:
- Degeneration – Result of daily wear and tear on the spine
- Injury – Sudden jerking movements can put too much pressure on the disc, causing the herniated disc, more specifically, of the neck: whiplash type injuries, of the lower back: lifting of heavy objects.
- Combination of degeneration and injury – spinal disc weakened by degeneration can make it more prone to herniation.
A bulging disc injury is suspected when your back pain is aggravated by:
- Forward bending
- Coughing or sneezing
- Altered sensations in your lower or upper limbs such as pins and needles, numbness.
Sciatica, leg pain, pins and needles, numbness or weakness are commonly associated with more severe disc pathologies. Authors have noted some degree of inflammation and irritation of the nerve root must exist to lead to the objective signs and symptoms of sciatica.
Dr George Hardas, your university trained chiropractor may suspect a spinal disc injury based on the history of your injury and your symptom behavior. He will perform clinical tests to confirm a spinal disc injury and detect if you have any signs of nerve compression. The most accurate diagnostic tests to confirm the extent of your spinal disc injury are MRI and CT scans.
Most minor and moderately bulging disc injuries are treated conservatively without the need for surgery. In order to allow the torn fibers of the annulus to heal and the disc bulge to resolve fully.
Please remember that scar tissue formation will take at least six weeks, so the longer that you avoid aggravating postures the better!
Unfortunately, bulging disc injuries are usually not a quick fix. Most bulging disc injuries do take several weeks to settle.
They will also remain weak and vulnerable for at least six weeks, sometimes longer. However, the good news is that most bulging disc injuries will not remain painful for that time period – but some do – and these tend to be the disc injuries that are poorly managed in the early phase.
Dr Hardas also uses a technique taught at the Pain Management Research Institute, RNSH called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that helps suppress ongoing pain signals.